This was a book I hadn’t heard of until someone kindly gave me a copy for Christmas. It’s a slow, quiet, and very rewarding novel about a woman in her early 50s whose husband has suddenly died of a heart attack. Kate’s story picks up several months after Tom’s death, as she struggles to re-imagine her life as a widow after so many years of easy and comfortable partnership.
One of the things distracting Kate from her loneliness is a rekindled friendship with an old acquaintance, Gregory, who, along with his wife, knew Tom and Kate when they were both young couples but has since experienced the shattering loss of his son and the end of his marriage. Kate’s relationship with the self-absorbed but genuinely suffering Gregory, her unlikely partner in grief, moves towards a truly unexpected conclusion, even as Kate moves through her own loss and discovers how difficult it is to rebuild a life.
The other, more satisfactory, distraction is the hatbox letters of the title — several boxes of old letters, diaries and documents saved from her grandparents’ house. As Kate reads through these papers, she discovers another tragic story of love and loss — this one from the early 20th century, when diseases that have since been eradicated by routine vaccination regularly ended young lives.
While the story is not fast-paced, it is beautifully detailed, with painstaking descriptions that never get in the way of character and plot but only enhance the story. I’m in awe of someone who notices such tiny details and uses them as effectively as Beth Powning does in this novel. This is a lovely look at loss, grief, and the very slow path to recovery.